In Fiji, the consumption of kava would accompany important social-political events and religious ceremonies. The daveniyaqona dish was specifically associated with the burau drinking rites, whereby a highly concentrated solution was poured into the bowl without the usual dilution using water. The kava was then consumed by priests using a straw also known as a burau. The strength of the resulting reaction enabled powerful forces to enter the priest’s bodies, allowing communion with ancestor spirits.
The complex shapes of bowls used for such rituals are also known in the form of birds (Sainsbury Collection: UEA 912) and turtles, however the sheer scarcity of the anthropomorphic type suggests they were produced at a single centre.
The example offered in our May 2021 auction showed a deep dark patination indicative of use. With wear to the rim, attachment lug and extended heels at the reverse. Kava deposits are present from pooling at the hands and feet of the figure, similar (though less profuse) to that seen in an example at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (accession number 2018.433). Interestingly, the very subtle slant in the shoulders present in that example is also present here.
The brooding face and formidable build combined with the flowing curves create a powerful and arresting visage. The parted lips and hollow eyes seem to suggest a trance, echoing the context of its original use (Nuku: 2020). In stylistic terms, the piece bears closest similarity to an early 19th century example collected by Captain Henry Denham of the HMS Herald in 1854, now displayed in the Pitt Rivers Museum (accession number 1884.65.40).
The UK was traditionally a centre for the sale of Tribal Art from Africa and Oceania. With our international reach, gallery spaces in Edinburgh, London and Glasgow, Lyon & Turnbull is ideally placed to play a strong role in the continued strengthening of the UK as a market. As a county whose people had travelled and spread across the world over the past 200 years, the United Kingdom can yield valuable souvenirs of its well travelled past. Over the past few years, pieces have emerged on these shores that have caught the attention of the top end of the market.